Post-traumatic stress disorder, or PTSD, is a mental health diagnosis for someone who has experienced a frightening and traumatic event. PTSD may impact you or someone you love, and both adults and children can experience this as a reaction to trauma. Sometimes, it doesn’t matter if the trauma was a small or large event. PTSD develops because of how you might have reacted to the scary and upsetting incident.
PTSD can also form if you have experienced ongoing stress in your life. Learning about the causes of PTSD, symptoms and treatments can help you begin the journey of healing your PTSD.
What are some of the main causes of PTSD?
There are two types of PTSD. There’s typical PTSD and complex PTSD. There are different causes for each.
Some main causes of typical PTSD include the following severely traumatic experiences and life-threatening events:
- Death of a loved one
- Fear of experiencing danger after a loved one has experienced it
- Severe physical or sexual assault
- Surgery, hospitalization, or sudden serious health problems
- Surviving a natural disaster, such as an earthquake, hurricane or tornado
- Surviving a serious accident, such as a car or plane crash
- Witnessing violence, such as a murder or robbery
Complex PTSD can develop when you or a family member has experienced a series of traumatic events over time. Or, the traumatic event could have continued over a prolonged period of time, such as months or years. For example, returning war veterans and abused spouses and children can suffer from complex PTSD since the trauma has gone on for a long time.
What are the symptoms of PTSD?
The symptoms of regular and complex PTSD are similar. However, the symptoms of complex PTSD may be more extreme and cause deeper problems in your relationships. They can also vary from person to person. Some of the main symptoms of PTSD include:
- Becoming easily startled
- Inability to sleep, concentrate, or work
- Avoiding talking about the event with others
- Engaging in risky behaviors to “forget” the event
- Losing interest in people and places you used to enjoy
- The inability to remember parts of the traumatic event
- Memories of the traumatic event through nightmares and flashbacks
- Avoiding any place, person or activity that reminds you of the event
- Feeling a range of negative emotions from depression to shame
- Intense and uncontrollable emotional reactions when remembering the event
- Constant and intrusive thoughts
What are the treatments for PTSD?
If you or a loved one experiences any symptoms of PTSD or has experienced a traumatic event, it’s important to find a mental health professional who can diagnose PTSD and treat it. Treating PTSD as soon as it has developed can bring great relief.
Cognitive processing therapy (CPT): CPT is a type of cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT). CBT helps you learn to manage life’s problems by changing the way you think and behave when issues come up. CPT helps you get unstuck from PTSD by focusing directly on the trauma. This therapy may cause mild discomfort when revisiting the memories of the trauma. But it is worthwhile to go through this therapy because you will learn to reduce and control your PTSD symptoms. Therapy may last for a few months, but it is a major source of support, understanding and coping mechanisms. CPT is effective one-on-one with a counselor or in a group setting.
EMDR: Eye movement desensitization and reprocessing (EMDR) is a newer and effective therapy for PTSD. Rapidly moving your eyes back and forth can help your brain process the upsetting memories, but it is best done under the care of a highly trained EMDR practitioner. EMDR may last a few months, as well.
When to see a mental health professional
Not everyone develops PTSD as a reaction to trauma, but no one knows exactly why. Some people with PTSD recover quickly from a trauma, while others go on to develop PTSD. If you notice that you or a loved one has PTSD, there are resources and support out there to help you cope immediately with the problem, such as calling 211 for assistance.
If the situation is not an emergency but you or a loved one experiences symptoms of PTSD for at least a month, speak with your primary care provider about therapy or counseling services. You can also reach out directly to a mental health professional.